Derek W. Vaillant, University of Michigan: “Local and National Radio Cultures in the Struggle for Racial Justice and Inclusion: The 325th Field Signal Battalion and Jim Crow in World War I”

Event Date: 

Friday, March 17, 2023 - 4:00pm

Event Location: 

  • CITS Conference Room

Derek Vaillant is a CITS Visiting Researcher, and a Professor of Communication & Media at the University of Michigan. His research uses archival methods, science and technology studies, and media and sound history and theory to explore America’s emergent “radio borderlands” —the interzone where local/regional and nationally produced broadcasting practices and discourses intersect.

In this presentation, Professor Vaillant examines the conditions in which Americans gained technical skills to enter the "new" medium of radio on the eve of World War I, prior to the rise of broadcasting in the 1920s. He notes how the war expanded access for thousands to gain the skills necessary to enter the budding industry,including African Americans, heretofore kept to the margins of the new medium. Yet, the war also exacerbated Jim Crow discrimination creating a violent backlash after 1918 that had consequences for the shaping of postwar media industries. Drawing on original archival research, Vaillant reconsiders the history of the 325th Field Signal Battalion, an all-black elite unit, and the ways that its story can inform how communication historians think about the politics of skills acquisition, race, and emerging information technologies then and today.